“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
So begins Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, Anna Karenina. Families experience all sorts of unhappiness. For some, there’s deep pain or grief. For others, small grievances make life tolerable but uncomfortable. For yet others, anger and shouting are as common at Christmas as the tree and presents.
Though we all have our own familial crosses to bear, many of us have this in common: We’re desperately afraid to share the good news that Jesus is Lord with our extended family members.
Share the gospel with someone in another country in a short-term mission trip? Sure. Share the gospel with an acquaintance over coffee? Okay. Share the gospel with your unbelieving aunt? No way.
Why is it so complicated with family?
It may be that telling our cousins about Christ is so uncomfortable because we’re confused by belonging to two families—our biological family and our family in Christ, the church. We tend to see ourselves inside the extended family unit as we once were rather than as we currently are.
Younger people tend to see themselves as the kid they once were rather than the adults they have become. Older people may still see themselves as the parent they once were instead of the grandparent they are now. Being around extended family has a way of keeping us in the mindset of the past.
But understood correctly, our salvation should lead not just to a desire to speak the Word of God to our extended family, but a responsibility to do so. The progression of thought goes like this: Jesus is Lord, we’re freely forgiven and adopted into God’s family, and we’re authorized as ambassadors for Christ.
JESUS IS LORD
Think about Jesus’ moniker, the Son of God. That title is not merely familial language. Jesus, the Son of God, is the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb. 1:3). He isn’t merely a son—a descendant—of God. He is God (John 1:14; Luke 3:22).
God is one God in three persons (John 14:16-17). Using traditional language, Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is the eternally begotten Son of God with all authority given over to him (Matt. 28:18). He is Lord not just of our lives, but the entire cosmos (Acts 10:36). He entered our world and made himself like us to save us from the wrath of God (Phil. 2:8). Jesus is the Lord who is also our Savior.
But we tend to think of Jesus as a buddy to help us rather than a God to rule us. We live in an age where lordship means nothing. We elect a new president and he becomes “not our president” if we disagree. We attend a new church and leave if we don’t like a certain aspect that falls in the category of preference. We quit jobs because the boss is too exacting.
Jesus is not our buddy. He is our Lord. But under his lordship, we are not slaves living in fear, we are slaves to righteousness and joy (Rom. 6:18). We have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God (Col. 1:13)!
The lordship of Jesus is non-negotiable. If we have been saved by him, we have come under his rule. But even if we haven’t been saved by him, he still rules (Heb. 1:3); we are just refusing to submit to him and rebel against the King of the universe. As I tell my kids all the time, “You are not in charge. There is a God, and he is in charge.” We didn’t create him, and we can’t change him. He is there, and he is not leaving. He is Lord.
Now, the next in the sequence will tell us how this Lord rules. And because he rules, we’re freely forgiven and adopted into his family.
Jesus is unlike any ruler we’ve ever known. All earthly rulers tend toward harshness and cruelty because the human heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9). But Jesus is no cruel dictator. He is a kind servant (Phil. 2).
Look inside yourself long enough, and you’ll find evil intentions, evil thoughts, evil desires. Look at your outward actions, and you’ll find evil that springs from the heart (Matt. 15:19). We have not done bad things merely to ourselves or other people, but ultimately to God (Ps. 51:4).
And how does God respond? He is patient toward you, not wishing that you should perish but that you should reach repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). God would rather redeem you than destroy you.
It’s not that he has merely forgiven us—to do so would be gracious and merciful—but restored us (1 Pet. 5:10). He bought us with his own blood (1 Pet. 1:17-19) and reconciled us to himself (2 Cor. 5:18). We who believe in Christ for our salvation have been completely and freely justified by his grace by his life, death, and resurrection (Rom. 5:1). We are no longer enemies of God because God chose to befriend us (Eph. 2:14-16).
We have nothing to prove to God. He came down from heaven in his goodness to rescue us (Matt. 1:21). We are clear before his holiness. We have come inside the courtroom of his justice and been declared innocent (Rom. 5:8-10). It’s not only that he sees us as forgiven sinners. Because of Christ, he sees us as if we had never sinned at all. We aren’t just wiped clean of a guilty conscience—we’re given a new life altogether.
Jesus has freely forgiven us before the Father, but more than that, he’s made us family members!
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” —Gal. 4:4-7
Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11) because he made himself like us (Heb. 2:14). We deserved the death penalty, but we were given a place in the family. And that place authorizes us to speak on behalf of our adoptive Father.
AUTHORIZED AS AMBASSADORS
An ambassador is an official representative. He speaks not for himself but on behalf of another. Surprisingly, Paul became an ambassador for Christ. He saw the lordship of Jesus and was converted from a murderous Jew into a gracious Christian (Acts 9). Furthermore, he was authorized by Jesus as an apostle to take the word of God to the ends of the earth (Gal. 2).
Paul, who wanted to kill those who spread the good news in the Jewish world, became the one through whom the good news went into the entire world. He was authorized as an official representative of Jesus. And so are you:
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20).
EQUIPPED FOR THE TASK
Nearly every one of us has a family member that we can’t imagine will ever believe the gospel. We can feel so weak. Paul felt weak in his life, too. He tells us how he asked the Lord to help him, and God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
What we see as inadequacy God uses as power. Our weakness is no excuse before God because he has not left us to figure this out on our own. He has given us his Spirit. If we trust his leading, he will give us both the opportunities and the power to speak the Word of God to our families.
Let’s remember that Jesus is Lord over every family, that he has freely forgiven us and adopted us into his family, and he has made us ambassadors on his behalf. And let’s be open enough to be used by him and see what only God can do in our families.
David McLemore is an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.